Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Melbourne, Day 1: Crime, Books, and Money

Today was our only full day in Melbourne, but we did a little exploring last night as well, and we managed to cram a lot in. Last night, for example, we briefly visited St. Paul's Cathedral and the Flinders St. Station, but didn't get many good pictures. There was a service in progress at St. Paul's, during which time no photography is permitted, so we only stayed perhaps about 10 minutes; and it's largely the outside of Flinders St. Station that's architecturally impressive.

Our first stop of the day was the Old Melbourne Gaol, which, when it was built in the mid-1800s, dominated the Melbourne skyline as a symbol of authority. Criminals were held alongside petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill. Between 1842 and its closure in 1929 the jail was the scene of 133 hangings, including Ned Kelly. Many of the cells were open, allowing visitors to enter, and often included history of the prison or stories of individual prisoners, as well as their death masks.

looking down the first floor; there were three floors of cells

The part of the jail we visited was originally known as the Second Cell Block. The other major surviving sections are the entrance gate, Chapel, and boundary walls. These can be seen around the corner but aren't open to the public because they form part of the campus of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

A series of bells  measured the prisoners' days: when to eat, pray, work, exercise, or sleep. When prisoners were locked in their cells at night, total silence prevailed; during the day, they worked in silence. At least until the 1870s prisoners were first placed i solitary confinement, and were then gradually allowed to mx with other inmates, and finally, closer to the time of their release, shared cells and worked in teams. Towards the end of the century the various penalties imposed on the prisoners for misdemeanors committed in jail  were gradually reduced; overcrowding and the constant movement of prisons in and out of the jail meant that any strict work routines gradually broke down. Workshops were used inefficient; the stone-breaking yard did not provide enough work and the prison was often treated as a home away from home.

looking inside one of the cells

After the closure of the jail in 1924, the site was set aside for educational purposes. As early as October 1924, approval was granted for the construction of a College of Domestic Economy on the site of the Remand Yard. In the 1930s, the Female Ward and buildings south of this cell block were demolished to make way for extensions of the Working Men's College (now RMIT University). The ail was briefly reopened and used as a military lock-up during World War 2.

We then moved on to the State Library of Victoria, established in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library, making it Australia's oldest public library and one of the first free libraries in the world. The Library's vast collection includes over two million books and 350,000 photographs, manuscripts, maps and newspapers, with a special focus on material from Victoria, including the diaries of the city's founders, John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, and the folios of Captain James Cook. It also houses some of the original armour of Ned Kelly, whose cell and story we happened to learn about in our visit to the Old Melbourne Gaol.

Ed wanted to go to the Library specifically to see the Domed Reading Room, which had opened in 1913. Its octagonal space was designed to hold over a million books and up to 600 readers. It is 114 in both diameter and height, and its oculus is about 16 feet wide. The dome was the largest in the world on completion.

a view of the Reading Room from the 6th Floor

A college friend had moved to Melbourne several years ago; I haven't seen her in close to a decade, but she happens to work down the road from our hotel, and she was, quite happily, able to take some time out of her busy day to meet us for lunch. Afterwards, Ed and I tried to go to St. Patrick's Cathedral, but it had closed after the 1 p.m. Mass; we tried to visit the Parliament House but were told that the only way to do so was by going on a 50-minute tour, which we weren't interested in.

We did make it to the Old Treasury Building, though. It's not an especially big museum, but we did wander through an exhibit on the Gold Rush ("20 Objects, 20 Stories," described as "the turbulent tale of Victoria’s gold rush through the individual stories of just 20 objects"); another ongoing exhibit, "Growing Up in Old Treasury," included a recreation of the living quarters of the Maynard family who, in the 1920s, lived downstairs in the Old Treasury building. The father was the Superintendent, in charge of security, maintenance and the cleaning staff; his wife would prepare morning and afternoon tea for the Governor's regular meetings. (They had eight children.)

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